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A Summer in Genoa

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A Summer in Genoa

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Entertainment One Home Video

Sometimes at the top of spring, when the summer’s blockbusters are on the horizon and nights at the drive-in watching Pixar’s latest emotional moneymaker are still a few months away, you need a hit of what I am now and forever calling “Sundance,” perhaps best described as foreign film lite: a sophisticated—but not overly so—slice of European life. A Summer in Genoa is such a fix.

Michael Winterbottom’s quiet movie with sad, spooky, lovely overtones features a slouchy but appealing Colin Firth as Joe, a professor who takes a job in the port town of Genoa, Italy, and moves his two daughters there for a year to escape and heal after his wife and their mom Marianne (Hope Davis) dies in a sudden car accident. Willowy Kelly (Willa Holland) is a teenager forced to help with her little sister Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) when she’d rather be on the back of some Italian boy’s moped. Mary sees her mother in the long, dark alleys of old-town Genoa and, many nights, cries out for her in heartbreaking sobs from bed. Joe does his stoic best, taking advantage of the time and interest of an old friend Barbara (Catherine Keener at her natural best) who would wish for more.

Shot hand-held, the movie moves along with the characters walking in the shadows of tall buildings or cutting through the bluest water and reclining on the brightest beach, yet there’s a sense of doom to the pacing of the story, like when Kelly closes her eyes to the music in her earphones or Mary walks down the narrow street 10 steps behind her frustrated sister. Not much happens, like in real life, so when it does, it changes everything.

Extras include a trailer, which is always weird to watch after the movie because you get a sense of what they were going for and whether they pulled it off (the dead mom is featured often in the trailer, making it seem like a ghost story, which it isn’t). Cast and crew interviews offer a chance to see the lovely Keener talking about the naturalness of the filming where they did their own styling, so no time in the makeup chair screwing up her concentration; Firth gets a little too deep about the story; writer/director Winterbottom gets personal and explains why he chose Genoa as the location; and there’s more with Davis and the girls. Finally, behind-the-scenes footage shows how this was filmed on the streets and in the water: just the crew surrounding the principles, tourists and the locals barely taking notice.

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